My career originally focused on food and marketing, and my first two jobs after Uni really set me up for running my own business. I learnt how to work really hard for really long hours, got an understanding of the nitty gritty side of running a business and I learnt the importance of having every facet of a business running perfectly. I made my mistakes on my employers’ time learning what to do and what not to do, and importantly how a team should be run and how staff should be treated.
Life changed when my husband Adam (who is a jewellery designer, silversmith and gemologist) and I joined forces. We had always planned to work together, but my dad’s advice was to hold off and to learn on someone else’s time first. And dad is always right! Initially we created a new lower priced range of product to encourage Adam’s loyal clients to visit more regularly and very quickly we identified a gap in the wider market. We have many friends in the fashion and retail industries who at the time had expressed a frustration at not being able to find product to complement the fashion ranges in store. I developed a range that started to take off by word of mouth and we found there was some legitimacy to what I was creating. My marketing brain kicked in when I discovered we had a product to sell, and we needed to find the best way to sell it.
We understood the importance of separating the new line from Adam’s traditionally crafted brand. We sat down together at the very beginning and wrote a business plan...they are one thing you have to keep rewriting. They’re not set in concrete, they’re a path for you to follow. We wrote a business plan for the new label and intended to run both businesses side by side, which we did successfully for around six years. We came to a cross road when we realised we were both stretched too far, and had to decide which business had more long term viability. It was becoming increasingly difficult to remain competitive in the fine jewellery industry and Elk was growing at a pace far more rapidly than the other – so the choice was made and we closed the fine jewellery business and haven’t looked back since.
We rewrite our business plan every four years or so, revisiting what we’ve done and reminding ourselves of the achievements and about how dynamic a business has to be. It’s difficult to be analytical and set yourself back and assess where you’re at, where you’ve been and where you’re going. Without doing that you kind of spin on a spot. We have always maintained that our key is to take things steadily and slowly and make very informed decisions – on everything.
Remaining true to the aesthetic and style of our brand helped us cut through the noise in the accessories and fashion business. We design for ourselves as much as our customers and consistency is the key – in design, marketing, production, service and customer experience. We make sure that every touch point looks and feels like Elk. Rather than focusing on trends or high street direction, we keep an eye on the competition to make sure we’re not making anything similar. This gives us an individual approach to design and ultimately creates a look that is identifiably Elk.
Our range is stocked in around 1000 stores, and breaking into the overseas market was a turning point. We like to challenge ourselves and the overseas market was a natural role-out once our domestic market was settled and working nicely. We started with an agent in Scandinavia at the same time as rolling out a PR campaign in the US. It was a lot to take on however both strategies were aimed at getting a feel for export and the challenges that come with it. It is a complicated process and obviously each new market comes with its own series of challenges. We took each step carefully and with great consideration, never over committing ourselves or go beyond our means.
Every business has to identify its channels to market and these often need reassessing. I don’t think any business could rely on one strategy….competition is too great and you risk being left behind or forgotten. We have both a wholesale and retail clientele to reach as well - domestic and international - so we participate in trade events, advertise both in print and digitally and run social media across six platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr and a blog). We employ a PR company to work on profile stories, try to collaborate or work on sponsorship initiatives with other brands and undertake direct marketing with our customers through in-store purchase communication or online. One of the most important promotional strategies, without a doubt, is SEO. If you can’t get your business on page one of the Google search then getting noticed is virtually impossible.
We were a bit older when we had our kids (Willow is four and Ollie is 16 months) – and I know it’s cliché but your priorities do change. I had three weeks off when I had Willow and 10 weeks off when I had Ollie, but I only came back to work part-time. One of my colleagues describes having children and running your own business like spinning plates, which is so true. You simply can’t be a great business person and a great mum at exactly the same time. You have to focus on one thing at a time otherwise you do both things badly. My commitment to my children is to be there 100% when I’m with them – and when I am at work it has my 100% focus. It’s better to do one thing at a time to your full ability rather than doing two things at half rate.
Running your own business is a lot of hard work, so there are a few things we stand by – not trying to be a parent and work at the same time, having schedules and keeping to them, not over committing (financially or physically), never being afraid to ask for help or support and realising that hard decisions will need to be made. You have to be a filter and work out what you, the business or your staff have the capacity to handle. It’s also important to have some down time - it never feels like the right time to be away from the business but family ultimately comes first and quality time together is the key to being happy, in control and ultimately a better parent.
For any mums who want to start their own business, it is important to understand it is a huge leap and should be taken realistically. Everyone with a dream has passion, drive and enthusiasm which will ultimately keep a business moving forward but underneath it all you have to have a solid business plan in place. I would urge anyone embarking on the journey to look at short, mid and long term plans. These will ultimately change over time but you need a destination – you and anyone else that comes to work for you need a common understanding of where you want the business to go. There are no assurances in business and our philosophy of taking things slowly and surely has served us well. Sometimes it’s hard to pull back or to wait – especially when you might have been working on getting something new to market. Making the hard decisions will ultimately serve the business well.
The future for ELK Accessories will see us focusing on the US. We are showing at a fashion trade event in China later this year, we have a new website launching in the next month and we’re re-writing our business plan for the next five to ten years. There are other international markets to explore, a couple of collaborations with other designers on the cards and possible new categories to add into the label……there’s plenty to keep us busy!
Elk is proudly based in Melbourne and offers original, contemporary designed fashion accessories, leather goods and beautiful apparel. Accessories for men are also offered in raw leather, natural jute and vegetable tanned leathers. Two range releases each year focus on seasonal colours - always in natural hues. Created with a unique aesthetic of stylish simplicity using fine quality raw materials sourced from all over the world.
Tel: 9478 1800
Copy: Melanie Quirk Photography: SomedaySomehowStudios
To find out how you can get get your business started and become the next Business Mama head to www.businessmamas.com.au
Marnie understood how vital a clear business plan is, setting short, mid and long terms goals. Business Mamas can set you on the right path with a structured business plan.